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Friday, April 30, 2010
During the course of the week I was asked to photograph a specimen of a tiny wasp at the research unit of the Natural History Museum of Durban. A researcher needed an accurate image in order to study the shape of some veins in the wing. Due to the fragility of the specimen (it was collected in 1920!) the museum was understandably a little less than eager to trust the little guy to vagaries of the postal system.
Enter moi. I was asked to come in and photograph the the desiccated chap so that there would be sufficient magnification to see the wing veins and at the same time have sufficient depth of field to look at the general shape, colouration and attributes of the insect. When I received a basic jpeg of the guy I thought, no problem. Macro lens, extension tubes and a nice low aperture should be fine. Then I was introduced to the model.
Tiny was what I thought I'd have to photograph...minuscule hadn't entered into my thoughts. Typical...I'd left my bellows behind thinking that just over life-size would suffice. In the end I found myself duct-taping a reversed 50mm lens to the end of a 68mm stack of extension tubes (yes, the bellows would have been better). Light was provided by my usual softbox approach (see link). In the end I had a magnification of roughly 4-5X lifesize. The problem, however, was not the magnification but the depth of field. In order to keep the image sharp I opted to shoot at the optimal aperture for the particular lens which I have found through trial and error to be f11. But, at this aperture I only get about 1.1mm depth of field at life-size reproduction.
To increase the overall depth of field I ended up utilizing a technique called focus stacking. Take multiple images of the subject at tiny increments of focus (easy with a focusing rack) so that over about 10 images you have just about every part of the insect in focus. Stack the images together in photohop and using various layers, masks and techniques to spot the areas of focus, blend the lot together. Accurate colour was ensured by grey-carding a final exposure and applying that white balance to all the RAW images during conversion.
In hind-site I will remember the bellows next time :)
Monday, April 26, 2010
Mountain weather is everything but predictable. So much so that three weather forecasts can all differ and all be wrong at the same time. My guess is the weather bureau have a dartboard at which they throw the dart. Instead of points we get the weather. The consolation for a sodden wet photographer is brooding clouds, glistening grass, shadowy trees in the mist and dramatic light.
This last weekend I joined a group of photographers for a workshop of mine in the Northern Drakensberg around the Amphitheatre. The weather turned out to be just that, weather. Wet and cold we found ourselves squinting through complete white outs on numerous occasions. But when the light shone through, wow. Tolkienesque is a nice description of the scene’s that presented themselves to use through the wisps of wet mist.
Still, warming toes and socks by the fire at the cosy Caterpillar Catfish restaurant at the top of Oliviershoek Pass helps put memories of frozen limbs at the back of the mind and more determined concentration on the next composition.
As always the highlight of the workshop is sitting on the Drakensberg escarpment at the edge of the Tugela Falls. An extremely cloudbound start of 5am ensured that we were able to make it to a viewpoint for sunrise. And did the photography gods conspire to our benefit! As we approached Sentinal car-park the clouds lifted and stars twinkled above. Rushing up the zigzags to the ‘Witches’ meant that we were able to look out over the base of the amphitheatre wall while the sun lifted over pockets of mist and cloud far below.
Although we missed the incredible views from the edge of the Amphitheatre wall itself, the sunrise shoot seemed to make up for this. As we left the mountain, so we returned once more, cloudbound and cold, but armed with cards of images of the brief sunshine that shone out over an ocean of cloud.
Thankfully, the clouds cooperated once more as a parting gift. Ensconced back at the mountainous Witsieshoek resort, we watched as stars came out and we set long exposures to paint their trails circling high above Sentinal Peak.
Thanks to (r - l) Nana ,Odelia, Katie, Jo, Jess, and Britt for a fantastic workshop in the wet!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
For once it wasn't work, but a well earned rest with Jackie. Of course, saying that it wasn't work only means that I wasn't paid. Last weekend Jackie and I took our first 'holiday' in three years. What a fantastic experience. No stress, no pressure from clients or students. Of course a camera was still involved though.
We spent two nights at Madike River Lodge in the North West Province as a prize for last year's runner up image in the Getaway Gallery annual competition. True to form I spent more time photographing the reserves smaller denizens and its beautiful surroundings than the large population of lion and elephant (I'll leave that to the 'real' wildlife photographers).
Not that there weren't lions mind you. Within the first kilometre to the reserve we were welcomed by an enormous male with an extremely well maintained mane. He lazely saluted us with a yawn before we ventured deeper into the reserve. But it was chameleons and the like, my usual stock in trade, along with stormy skies that entranced. With any luck I'll be able to return. Maybe next time, I'll be paid to do so ;)
Saturday, April 10, 2010
I also came across a small ant that obligingly allowed me to set up tripod with flash and softbox and enough time to rattle of a 4 gig card of images as it tended to a small swarm of aphids on the leaf stems. Again I find myself amazed at the lighting opportunities presented by a single flash with softbox attached. I'll be posting a new tutorial on macro lighting this week on the tutorial page of my website, so keep posted for more...
As usual, the evening painting with light shoot was a hit and the students had a great time experimenting with torchlight on the dunes outside St. Lucia. Now, of course I need to get back to the real world and the pile of files that need to be processed...they never end ;)